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Journey - Chapter 10

Continuing with Studies and Attempts at Dating


vol40no04 3In the introduction to my story, I mentioned that people have asked how my faith and my orienta­tion intersected and collided. During that first year at CUC, there was a spiritual “event” that conspired against me to create great expectations on one hand and disillusionment on the other. Those expectations intensified my internal conflict and would carry forward to the time when I was in reparative therapy. Because my spiritual formation was profoundly influenced by that event, I will explore it at some length. Bear with me, as I get a bit theological.

While I was in Japan, an Adventist pastor had been giving Week of Prayer lectures on Adventist campus­es in the United States. I initially learned of Morris Venden through audiocassette tapes (showing my age again). While I enjoyed the taped messages, I was thrilled when I ob­tained a print copy of the fall 1975 Student Movement, the student news­paper for Andrews University. That 28-page issue was a transcript of Venden’s Week of Prayer messages.

As was my practice with any spirit­ual material, I methodically worked my way through it, ruminating over every word. I underlined, highlighted, circled, checked, and re-highlighted poignant comments that I felt related to my experience.

Venden’s sermons were rich with illustrations promising a victorious life. They focused heavily on the load­ed concepts of continual obedience and the correct use of my will. He used a road trip as a running parable. On this road trip, intimidating Peter­bilt transport trucks represented the threat to my obtaining personal victo­ry in the here and now as I moved to­ward the Kingdom of God.

vol40no04 4In this parable, my temptation was to cling to control of my will -- the steering wheel -- thinking I could out maneuver those trucks myself. By clinging to the steering wheel, I would in effect be assigning Jesus to the pas­senger seat. My spiritual ”work” was to surrender total control of the wheel – my will – to Jesus. Then I would ex­perience continuous personal victory.

This quote sums up the heart of his message. “If as a Christian, you hav­en’t yet discovered meaning in the personal daily devotional life, don’t try anything else… It is the entire basis of the Christian experience; ongoing communion and fellowship with Jesus.”

Throughout those 28 pages, Ven­den repeatedly emphasized that the only way to access the benefits of the cross was through a faith relationship with Christ.

 Of course, my ears perked up when he quoted from my cherished devo­tional companion to the Bible – The Desire of Ages. Quotes like the follow­ing pulled at my heartstrings. “When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of con­tinual obedience. Through an appre­ciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” And again, “If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our actions will be in harmony with the will of God.”

By now I think you can appreciate why I became preoccupied with Ven­den's message. He insisted that a rela­tionship with Jesus was comprised of Bible study, prayer, and the Christian witness – “the three tangibles by which all other intangibles are made tangible.” While his emphasis was not new, it re-enforced what I had been doing since my baptism at age twelve – diligently practicing a devotional life. And now, I had a year of mission ser­vice to add to my list of tangibles.

The inner conflict this created was intense, as awareness of my ori­entation increased while not experi­encing any of the promised benefits. Because I was not becoming hetero­sexual in any sense of the word, I could only conclude that Venden's explanation applied to me.

“Now the only explanation for [not obtaining victory in the Christian life],” he insisted, is “that there must be an on-again, off-again abiding in a sense, to explain the failures that we have seen in our lives.” “Because,” he con­tinued, “if we do not abide in Christ at any given moment – depending upon Him, leaving Him at the wheel, in the driver’s seat – our feelings, thoughts, purposes, and actions will not be in harmony with the will of God.”

 What was I to think? The only con­clusion I could come to was that I had not been intentional enough about my devotions, or that I was not doing it correctly. Because I was already primed by years of personal devotions, I was ready to do, with a vengeance, any variation on a devotional life I thought necessary to end my secret struggle.

I know I am repeating myself, but you must appreciate how deeply I identified with Venden's emphasis. When he said, “The only part that you can do in the fight of faith is an ongo­ing daily personal fellowship.” I took it to heart. I also took to heart the prom­­ise that if I came into this growing re­lationship with the Lord Jesus, “Jesus would fight my battles for me.

vol40no04 5Scattered throughout Venden's sermons were phrases gathered from Ellen White outlining the changes that would occur if God took control of my will and then gave it back to me with Him in charge. While the list was ex­tensive, I became preoccupied with those that seemed to speak directly to me. When God is in control, Venden insisted: inclinations and affections change; thoughts and desires change; impulses and tendencies change; passions are subdued; and our feel­ings, emotions, and imaginations are transformed.

That is quite a list. While it is not unusual for a Christian leader to speak in these terms nor for a Christian to seek these changes, I became preoc­cupied with them. To my detriment, I confused each characteristic with my orientation.

A non-Adventist might find it diffi­cult to appreciate the force I gave to comments made by Ellen White. She holds a prophetic-pastoral role within Adventism, and the church would not be what it is today without her. She is like the Church Fathers are to Catho­lics, Luther to Lutherans, Cal­vin to Re­formed people. Whether it was White or the Bible, I frequently misread and misapplied what I read to my orien­tation. I did not read ”change” state­ments as universal promises offering hope and encour­agement. I read them as absolutes which I must expe­rience if I were truly a faithful follower of Christ.

Therefore, if one thoughtful hour contemplating Jesus' life was not suffi­cient, then maybe two thoughtful hours were necessary. While I did not follow a two-hour per day routine, the thought that I was not being faithful enough in my devotions haunted me. I often wondered if the Apostle Paul was correct. Perhaps, in some way, my devotions were misguided and that I was worshiping the creature rather than the creator. As a result, I was under God's wrath and being “handed over” to these desires.  I felt the implications were staggering – if not eternal – in consequence.

Earlier I mentioned expectations. Venden’s message heightened my expectation of a change in my feelings and attractions. However, because of my naivety about the nature of sexual orientation, I was setting myself up for a great disappointment. At the time, I understood my experience in the same way many see it. To use a commonly used but equally confusing term, I saw my orientation as a pro­pensity.

Propensity is a tricky word. Some definitions sound more like behavior as in a tendency to eat too much, or an inclination to talk too much, or to have an angry disposition. When the term propensity is used to describe homosexuality, the person using it typically believes that I am hetero­sexual with homosexual inclinations. That was not how I experienced my orientation.

Other definitions sound more stable and enduring – even innate. This is where orientation fits in. If a heterosexual friend said he has a deeply ingrained or strong natural proneness toward the opposite sex, he would be describing his orientation as a state of being. Over the last 30 years, I have never heard one of my heterosexual friends describe his or her sexuality as a propensity. For them, it is who they are. Even if they remained celibate, they would still experience the world as a hetero­sexual. At least, that seems the case when I swap stories with my hetero­sexual friends.

Likewise, I often hear the misguid­ed comparison of homosexuality to that of prostitution or adultery. Often it is spoken of in terms of an addiction like alcoholism or gambling. These are not orientations. Some are behavioral choices while others may reflect a propensity. All people can participate in these irrespective of orientation. Likewise, people of either orientation can have a propensity to be greedy, arrogant or just plain foolish. On the positive side, the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – can be seen in the lives of all despite their orientation.

vol40no04 6At the time, I did not make the distinction between state-of-being and behavior. Some people don’t like it when I express my orientation as a state-of-being because they would prefer that homosexuality were a propensity – in the behavioral sense. I have to live with reality, however, not what others believe or would prefer.

In this state of confusion, I em­braced the belief that my spiritual practices would change my orienta­tion. I expected the emergence of a totally different state of being. Had there been some shift in my experi­ence, it would have suggested that Jesus was fighting this battle for me. But there was nothing! I went to bed wondering when I would no longer be the evidence or object of God's wrath.

Three words from Jesus’ phrase ”as a man thinks in his heart so is he” succinctly capture how I felt at the time. I was always trying to figure out how to purge the ”so is he” from my person. It was like trying to split a theological or psychological atom. For me to hate the sin, was to hate myself. Linking continual obedience with the elimination of my orientation was a recipe for insanity.

Put another way, my devotional life was being overshadowed by a set of destructive assumptions. Assump­tion One: The spiritual person will al­ways be victorious. Assumption Two: My orientation should not persist if I was totally submitted to Jesus. As­sumption Three: If it did persist, I was to blame.

 Venden talked at length about the right use of the will. “One of the great misunderstandings in the Christian life,” he wrote, “is how to use your

The saddest part in all of this was that my devotional life was becoming a daily reminder of failure rather than the grace-filled space where I had al­ways met with my Savior.

will and your will power.” The big question he admitted was how to know where divine power begins and human effort ends. He wondered how much God expects us to do and how much we could expect from God. How could Ven­den write with such certainty in the face of such questions? These “frustrating and heavy ques­tions” as he put it, plagued me for the next decade and more. It is out of my experi­ence that I plead with pastors or coun­selors to examine the theolo­gical framework from whichthey ask others to live their lives.

It would be easy to blame Venden's message for leading me into a quag­mire of uncertainty. Believing that my devotions – prayer, Bible study, and witnessing – would result in a change in my orientation, I was left in spiritual turmoil.  In this let-go-and-let-God the­ology, I eagerly anticipated some kind of divine intervention, but it never came.

The saddest part in all of this was that my devotional life was becoming a daily reminder of failure rather than the grace-filled space where I had al­ways met with my Savior.

At this point of personal crisis, it would be easy for some to inter­ject that if I had had a proper under­standing of the gospel, I would have experienced the change I hoped for. By ”proper,” they would mean a Refor­mation understanding in which Luther would have me locate my salvation in the objective life, death, and resurrec­tion of Jesus. I would be introduced to that  Good News when I started repar­ative therapy a few years later.

In that context, my counselor con­structed a therapeutic approach fo­cused on the external work of Jesus. I was encouraged to ”claim” my hetero­sexuality by faith in the same way I would claim my salvation by faith in Christ. I was counseled to believe that what I held by faith – my heterosexual­ity – would become more and more tangible.

While learning about the  Good News was life-changing, in that con­text, I was asked to do things which now seem unethical. When I get to that part of my story, I will elaborate on how I was to apply ”the right use of my will” in a gospel context to change my orientation.

 I never told anyone about the sig­nificance I gave to Venden's message – neither the hope nor the trepidation. At the same time, I was so enthusias­tic, that I persuaded the college pastor to let a group of us – which included Donna – fix up a tiny old church that sat unused in the village of Lacombe. I was determined to fill the town with the hope of victory in Jesus while not experiencing it myself. Sadly, this marked my growing trend of ignoring reality.

 We got as far as repainting the in­terior walls before academic demands dampened that dream. We were fired up, though, and throughout the year, many study groups were spent dis­secting Venden’s sermons. With all of this going on in the background, I con­tinued with studies and attempts at dating.

vol40no04 7As a healthy 20-year-old male, my libido was as charged as any of my friends and I was always affected by visual stimulation. Because this expe­rience is beginning to sound routine you might be tempted to think I was growing accustomed to it. That as­sumption would be wrong.

 As always, the dormitory was the primary source of visual distress. The ”wanting” to look never ended and the constant modifying of my beha­vior was draining. I spent as little time as possible in those community show­ers even though there was a bit more privacy than back at Kingsway. Even though I could arrange my mornings so that I got in and out of the showers ahead of the others, I couldn't avoid all the scantily clad guys moving about in the halls!

 Awareness of my orientation was further heightened because finding a mate was taking on a serious tone. For us single theology majors, there could be a sense of desperation. Next to the degree itself, having a wife in arm at graduation was a not-so-un­written expectation for employment. This little fact was not lost on me. In the back of my mind, there was a growing concern that all my dreams might be in jeopardy if I couldn’t find a wife.

 Most of my friends were dating. Kelvin settled into a serious relation­ship. Despite the happiness I had for him, it was hard to watch him and Marcia together. I couldn’t help com­pare myself to Kelvin and others. Their obvious attraction to the oppo­site sex made me very aware of what I did not feel. Even the tender act of holding someone’s hand was out of my reach. When the desire to hold someone's did cross my mind – and it did – it was that of a male friend. In turn, that thought was followed by those “why” questions, followed by a headache.

Naturally, some women were more physically appealing to me than oth­ers. I may not be sexually attracted to women, but I am not blind to aesthetic beauty. Still, even stunning beauty failed to arouse sexual interest. And that is the crux of the issue. Without physical attraction or emotional ap­peal driving me, little else could fol­low. My social interactions were simi­lar to walking through that bee-filled shed. Everything was happening around me, but I was disconnected from it all. To function day to day, I had to suspend most feelings and emotions.

 With my attempts to date, a trend emerged. Generally, by the time a second date might have occurred, I had identified a reason a relationship could never work. It was usually a superficial reason, often a physical reason. Before I elaborate, I feel I should do as TV stations do and state that any resemblance to any person is entirely coincidental, and to protect the innocent, names have been changed.

 My dating year looked like this. If Miss September had a small mole on her neck at the beginning of the month, all I could see by the end of the month was a huge hideous growth. If Miss October was a full-figured girl on the 1st, by the end of the month, all I could see were breasts. If Miss November were less blessed “in that way,” by the potential second date, I was sure I should be dating the full-figured girls. Miss De­cember's hips were too hippy by the end of the month; Miss January’s slender arms were definitely too thin by the 31st; Miss February’s hair was too curly or too short or too long. Miss March’s ankles were too stout. Miss April was deficient in every way; and Miss May – well, the school year was over by then – proving there was just no one meant for me that year. Mean­while, there were just-fine guys every­where I looked. I can make light of this now, but at the time it was distressing.

 When I couldn't rationalize ruling out a potential a mate based on physi­cal appearance, I used my field of stu­dy. As a theology major, there was the ministerial ”must-have list” – an un­written list of essential characteristics women must possess in order to be a good pastor's wife. She should be able to play the piano (even teach piano if need be to support our family). As well, she should be able to cook a fine meal, entertain, and get along with every church member. She must be able to create and manage the perfect Adventist home. No one ever met all those criteria. Subconsciously, this played right into my denial system.

 Whenever I imagined a future that included a wife and children, there was no link between them. I had no fantasies about ”knowing” a woman as Adam knew Eve. Even during those embarrassing nocturnal emissions – which I had no control over – wom­en were never featured. And yes, Christian men studying theology have nocturnal emissions! Any children in my imaginary family had either been discovered under a cabbage leaf or delivered by a stork.

 If there had been the slightest at­traction, there would have been something to work with. I had zero propensities for the opposite sex. I thought about this day in and day out, week after week, and month after month.

 My only ongoing relationship was with Donna, although there was never any mention of our being in a ”relationship.” We were always doing things together. If we weren't going shopping, we were attending prayer groups. Often, rather than attend a social function on campus, we would sneak away to make a campfire in the woods beside a nearby lake. Under normal circumstances, this would all have been so romantic. For me, it was only platonic.

After a year and a half at CUC, things literally changed one night. In early December, I got a phone call in the middle of the night. Night calls are disturbing because they often mean something serious. This was a serious call but for an exciting reason.

 When my foggy head cleared, I re­alized it was the director of the lan­guage schools in Japan. Bruce was cal­ling to ask if I wanted to come back to Japan for another year. Silly question! For the last year and a half, I had been chattering about Japan every opportu­nity I could get. The only problem – Bruce didn’t need me at the end of the school year. He needed me that January.

Although Kelvin was supportive, he told me years later that he wondered why I hadn’t decided to finish my de­gree and then go back to Japan as a pastor. There were any number of reasons why I jumped at the opportu­nity, but two stand out. Life in Japan was more exciting and rewarding than working on my degree, and it was an escape from the growing conflict be­tween career expectations and my orientation. There was one other good reason. Donna was already there!

 Whatever the case, the next couple of weeks flew by. I had to write exams, finish papers, and make a trip home for Christmas. By early January, I was thrilled to be back in Tokyo.  


Journey - Chapter 12
Journey - Chapter 8